for release Friday December 17, 2004
by Melodie Davis
Do You Really Need More Stuff?
We came into this world with nothing. We go out of it with nothing.
Such truisms come to mind especially when doing things like helping your parents downsize to a retirement apartment.
It also seems like an appropriate thing to think about in these final countdown weeks to Christmas, when good intentions to be creative in our Christmas gift giving, such as to give or make meaningful gifts, plan ahead, not leave it to the last minute—fly out the window and you settle for one last run to the super discount store to finish off your Christmas shopping with just more commercialized “stuff.”
Stuff that your parents, or you, or your siblings will eventually have to get rid of when they downsize. Sobering.
In an earlier column I alluded to helping my parents move this fall and indeed it was a crash course in dealing with stuff.
One man at my parents’ auction said, “You know, when I left for college, I put all my stuff in the trunk of my car. When I left college I got it in two carloads. When I got married, we got our stuff in a pick-up. When we moved from our apartment, we needed a U-Haul.” And then late in life you need an auction to take care of your accumulated possessions! Even though my mother was quite a meticulous housekeeper, it was amazing to see all of the stuff that had built up in their basement, garage, and storage shed.
You probably have a similar story. But it is worthwhile to note that today kids can hardly go to college with all their stuff in the trunk of a car. Today it takes a van or the back of a truck. What will this generation accumulate by the time they’re 80?
So, while scaling down is sad, and the process of going through stuff stirs up roomfuls of memories, this is part of the rhythm of life, like a tree losing its leaves in the fall. It can actually feel good to travel lighter through life. In the end, even the most cherished photo albums won’t go to heaven with us.
When I was in my early 30s I interviewed a man who was then about the age I am now. He said that after 50, instead of accumulating more stuff, his “program” became trying to unload stuff—to divest himself of his treasures.
I like the tradition of lots of folks in our area—a tradition that seems to take a little of the pain out of seeing your lifelong treasures be carted off by complete strangers. Many of our fellow church members have invited us to their houses when they were getting ready to move to a retirement facility and simply said, “Take something to remember us by.” In one case, a woman brought me a beautiful casserole dish and said, “Here, I want you to have this.” Another couple picked out a number of things they thought we would like and designated them for us, including some thoughtful and valuable antiques. In another situation we could make donations towards moving expenses if we wanted.
Another man, who helped family members with three moves in the space of about nine months, said, “I have become an expert at getting rid of stuff.”
So why do we accumulate and give more stuff every Christmas? Maybe you have some on your list who would actually appreciate a gift given in their honor to their favorite charity (not your favorite). Most elderly parents, instead of any gift, would value much more the gift of time spent with them: either during the holidays, if you live at a distance, or specific plans for a time when you will get together. If you live nearby, setting up a weekly regular time—might be just the gift your mother would like. Small children too, often would rather have your undivided attention for an evening or a day than just another gift that breaks the first day.
Don’t be bashful about passing on gifts that have been given to you that you know you will never use. Take them to a white elephant gift exchange with a group of friends—usually quite a hoot if done in a spirit of fun.
As a reminder of what Christmas is all about, Another Way’s special Christmas gift for you this year is a little booklet featuring all of the scripture passages in the New Testament that reference “Jesus of Nazareth” in some way. Ask for the free “Jesus of Nazareth” scripture booklet and indicate what paper you read this in.
Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg VA 22802 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 800 words; end material = 105 words
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